Hunting and Gathering: Networking with Men

networking_with_menBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

I’ve never been fond of the imagery associated with the phrase “hunting and gathering,” conjuring up visions of big cavemen-types hurling spears at bison, while their female companions gingerly pick berries nearby. In fact, research has shown that this is often a bit more of a stereotype than a hard-wired reality. For example, a study of the Philippine Agta culture showed that women hunters regularly outperform their male counterparts – and mixed-sex groups do best of all: “Their rates are even better when they combine forces with men: mixed hunting groups have a full 41% success rate among the Agta.”

Why the scholarly introduction, you ask?

It seems that a similar division of the sexes is taking place in the business arena as well – even if it is within the bounds of the corporate auditorium, the conference room, the multi-purpose area. The line of discussion says that one reason women still lag behind in corporate leadership positions is because their networking style is simply different then men’s – preferring to seek out deeper professional connections than embarking on the broader approach associated with men: collecting casual acquaintances and leveraging them when the need arises. Women are hunting for a few deep, professional connections, rather than gathering many casual ones.

A 2008 McKinsey study explained:

“men tend to build broader, shallower networks than women do and …the networks of men give them a wider range of resources for gaining knowledge and professional opportunities. This theory is a matter of substantial debate among academics. Our experience with hundreds of women at McKinsey, however, offers additional evidence that women’s networks tend to be narrower but deeper than men’s.”

This leaves women with a network of close, personal acquaintances – which is great for mentoring and advisory relationships, but it may not be the best way to climb the career ladder. After all, the hunter-gatherer metaphor doesn’t end here. We also have the division of the sexes to deal with.

Division of the Sexes in Networking Relationships

A 2002 University of California, Irvine study by Matt L. Huffman and Lisa Torres, It’s Not Only “Who You Know That Matters: Gender, Personal Contacts, and Job Lead Quality, explained that women seek out women in their professional network to build personal connections, while men built professional networks for reasons relating to professional gain.

“Thus if women are seeking out other women primarily as contacts for social support (even when those contacts are work related) and men allow women into their networks only when they are useful for instrumental purposes, then men would suffer less disadvantage from having women in their networks than would women. This points to a selection process by which men default to other men when seeking job leads and seek out only exceptionally positioned women from whom to glean job-related information.”

While this data may explain why women choose to network with other women, it’s not necessarily a recipe for corporate success. Women’s networking groups are wonderful ways for women to build support systems and share connections with one-another. But on the other hand, if the majority of leadership positions are held by men, shouldn’t we be networking with them as well? After all, we now have several recent studies backing up the success rates of companies with diverse boards… wouldn’t we find more success in a diverse networking arena as well?

Networking with Men

In a recent Forbes article, Gail Blanke, a life coach and author explained, “We see things from a lot of different angles, not just one straight-lined route, and so we take a roundabout route” to networking – unlike men.

What steps can you take to network with men? First of all, the McKinsey study explains, you should learn the art of reciprocity. The report explains, “One surprising thing we learned as a result of talking with female leaders was that they often fail to reciprocate and find expectations that they should do so distasteful. A senior partner at McKinsey noted that men naturally understand that you must ‘give before you get,’ but women don’t.”

It continued, “One approach is to provide and ask for help on a regular basis. Finding ways to forge connections through interests outside of work is another. Over and over, we heard, ‘Make it personal,’ in the sense that others will get along with you more easily if they see your human side.”

Second, manage your social networks properly – for example, don’t be afraid to connect with someone on LinkedIn, even if you’ve only managed to collect their business card at a conference. As a recent Brazen Careerist article explained, your network may seem full of cursory acquaintances, but it doesn’t hurt to reinforce your professional connections online.

And third, get to the point. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of Why Him, Why Her explained in Forbes, “The male brain is more compartmentalized; they get straight to the point, they know the goal. They tend to decide right away, with little to no small-talk, whether they will work with you or not.”

This advice should, by no means, be taken to imply that women should learn to network differently. But, at least in the near future, if they’d like to get ahead, women may need to learn to network differently with men.